"Alive is a matter of opinion."
Even though the Emmys forgot to nominate Boardwalk Empire for Outstanding Drama Series at least they came to their senses and awarded the Outstanding Supporting Actor (in a Drama Series) statue to Bobby Cannavale for his, well, outstanding work on the show last season. Don't worry, Breaking Bad fanatics. Aaron Paul will win again next year. Unless Jeffrey Wright continues to impress as Dr. Valentin Narcisse. Wright is just one of the many stellar off-season moves that Boardwalk made in between seasons with "Acres of Diamonds" busy bringing even more new characters (played by great actors) into the Season 4 action. Not too busy, it's still burns slow. And the period piece's beautiful slow build has been great so far, as are the additions, but the show is still missing something. Or someone. I know that Boardwalk is trying to emphasize Nucky's increasing isolation and loneliness this season, however, it's past time we caught up with Margaret. In Brooklyn. At least we got a location of her and the kids' whereabouts.
"Welcome to Tampa. Land of money, cunny and where it's always sunny."
The fourth season of Boardwalk could also be known as Nucky standing alone at windows and "Acres of Diamonds" features a few beautiful shots of him doing it in his Tampa hotel room. The first shot depicts our 'hero' walking by himself (even in the company of guards) directly to his position staring out the window until cutting to the first meeting with his 'old friend' Bill McCoy. And in a nice bit of foreshadowing, he tells him straight away that the man who's excited to meet him might not feel the same excitement after it actually happens. While having lunch, Nuck eavesdrop on a kid name Skeeter's real estate pitch and learns about all the developments popping up near the property he's there to discuss. That means there will be a lot of prying eyes in the neighborhood and that's not good for business. Good for racket - racquet puns though. The tiny volatile hillbilly that Bill introduces to Nucky isn't too happy to hear the news and neither is Bill since he owes the big shot (in Tampa) a few hundred thousand dollars. If only he had come to Nucky as a friend but his decisions by the window are final. Or not. Too bad Bill (or little Gus) doesn't know that a late night, sexually charged and intellectually stimulating visit with Patricia Arquette's Sally Wheet will get Nuck thinking differently about Florida. Oh, she also picks out a gift for Teddy. Remember him?
"Stray dogs and bachelors."
Speaking of lonely men, Richard's journey continues to take interesting twists. His thread picks up this week with him making good on his decision to stop murdering people by burying his pistol in the backyard. It's not just your average gun burial either, it's shot like someone saying goodbye to a pet. We also meet Hugh, the lovable lump of a man who likes to call people by versions of their names. I'm not sure what a guy like that wants to do with the Harrows but he's probably exactly what their family needs. It's a good thing that Richard decides to leave home because Hugh is exactly the kind of character that seems destined to be a corpse. The sad part of Richard leaving his twin sister behind is, well, not getting to see any more of Katherine Waterston as Emma. She's not only delivering a great performance (with those giant brown eyes in the middle of the grey wasteland) but is the only female character of worth on Boardwalk this year. And not just because she can handle a shotgun either, although it was nice to see her come to her brother's rescue. Sorry, Carl Billings. Richard doesn't kill anymore. Well, besides that henchman. I also really loved the scene where he took his mask off to bask in the rays of sun streaming in through the roof. All of "Acres of Diamonds" was exquisitely shot and that was one of the most stunning scenes.
One of the other most compelling compositions in the third episode comes near the end of Gillian's storyline when she retires to the bathroom to shoot up. The method of injection was particularly gritty, the camera catching her her stick the needle in behind her knee before lifting up to her face and out of frame. And things had been going so well for Gillian this week, way to bring up her prostitution son! Not very discreet or tactful. And Ron Livingston's Roy Phillips isn't away of her sordid past. Or is he? He's a tough character to get a read on and I'm not buying the whole Jimmy Stewart routine. I mean, I totally am buying Livingston's Stewart (it does seem a little like an impression of the star), just not what his character is selling. He pretends to be earnest and endearingly indecisive in order to manipulate people and Gillian is especially susceptible in her vulnerable state. To be fair, whatever he has in store for her seems to be better than what she'd been doing so... congrats? The pair go to find him an apartment but he cleverly manages to avoid putting any roots down in Atlantic City before convincing her to pose as his wife for a business meeting. And even though she pushes the boundaries a little, things go swimmingly during the couples evening out at the Onyx, the beginning of a beautiful, melted friendship.
"Some ferocious guard dogs and a few fellas with shotguns but nothing to concern yours..."
The least compelling thread this season has to be Willy Thompson at college. Eli's eldest son is on a bit of a rebellious streak, smoking and chasing girls with his buddies. And what is a college party without a little booze? To impress a girl, Willy announces that he's able to procure them some liquor for a late night gathering and drags Nerdstrom (the only suitable name) to the distillery with him to get it from Mickey. Unfortunately, the 'guy' that the Thompson boys knows is also a moron and decides to slap the kid around a bit before realizing who he's slapping. And to make matters worse, Mickey also lets him leave with the booze because now he's got to keep the boy's (bloody) mouth shut. I wonder how Eli is going to react when he finds out? Maybe Mickey's lucky streak is finally coming to an end? Nah, that cockroach will live forever. Willy's connections do end up impressing the girl but that also creates an enemy with Bucky, the typical popular, rich kid. I know that these school caricatures probably existed in this era, however, the Saved by the Bell: The Prohibition Years isn't really working for me yet. Perhaps the writers are planning to do something interesting with these types? You know, more than being boner embarrassed.
"When men make themselves into brutes it is just to treat them as brutes."
While Willy isn't quite cutting it yet, the introduction of Dr. Narcisse is the most interesting storyline in Season 4. Boardwalk has dabbled in race issues and the African American experience of the era in previous seasons but Chalky's character was on the periphery of the action in Atlantic City until now and Wright's antagonist is so explicitly calling attention to the issue. "AoD" catches up with Dr. Narcisse back in Harlem, educating a bunch of young black men before making a deal with Arnold Rothstein for some heroin. It was a nice touch to have him wipe his hand after shaking Rothstein's and I also liked Fredric Lehne (LOST) in his brief turn as Owney Madden. The episode also saw the introduction of Margot Bingham's Daughter Maitland, a singer and likely mistress for Chalky not to mention another reason for the Onyx club owner to come into conflict with Dr. Narcisse. It's already quite clear that the doctor is gunning to take Chalky out and this week he's able to make a lot of headway in recruiting Dunn to his side. Not that it's going to take a lot, considering the way Chalky's been treating his number two. The quote above was possibly my favorite of the week because it's actually Narcisse telling Chalky to his face that the latter is giving him reason to treat him without respect. What is Dunn going to do? Continue to serve Mr. White or join the Universal Negro Improvement Association?
"Well, see you in the funnies."
Boardwalk Empire returns with Episode 4, "All In," next Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Created by Terence Winter, the series stars Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Shea Whigham, Vincent Piazza, and Michael Stuhlbarg.
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